Episode Based Content 2007

Discussion in 'Indie Business' started by NothingLikeit, Feb 15, 2007.

  1. NothingLikeit

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    Hello All,

    I started a post about Episodic Content about 2 years ago. Alot of people were skeptical about the concept here. I've still been plugging along doing research into downloadable content and the reception that gamers have had to the concept. I've seen some consternation to the concept from both developers and the gaming public at large.

    So my question is what's it going to take to get people to accept Episodic Gaming.

    IMHO so far I've come up with the benefits of cutting down on playing time for busy adults, easier to complete, and reliable updates.
     
  2. tolworthy

    tolworthy New Member

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    Isn't that what Sam and Max is (are?) about?
     
  3. electronicStar

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    It's impossible to know if it will be a success or a failure until someone tries for real:eek:

    I think also that what matters isn't if the content is episodic, hat matters is the quality of the content. If you produce episodic crap it will always fail. If you produce episodes with a very good game it has good chances of succeeding.

    Also : if I were to do something like that, I'd make sure that someone could take the game in the middle without being lost (make each episode playable in standalone, yes like bad TV series) but make sure that the continuity gives him the incentive to have the prequels or sequels.
     
  4. JoKa

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    People may reject from buying something that states it's "incomplete" or fear that future add-ons aren't sure to come. Could be better to release a nice game the traditional way and offer additional episodes later.
     
  5. KNau

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  6. Game Producer

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    I'm seriously considering Episodic Content, since it would help reduce the release timeline. Since people like to buy Diner Dash, Diner Dash Extreme, Diner Dash Gold, Diner Dash Strikes Back, Diner Dash Match-3, Diner Boulder-Dash (and the expansions aren't always that different, even if they are sequels) I see no reason why it couldn't work if done properly.
     
  7. Pyabo

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    Someone doing it right? Releasing once/year is NOT episodic in the slightest (Valve). Releasing one "episode" and then folding is NOT episodic content (Ritual, numerous others).

    Perhaps a better question is why some people seem to think it's a good idea to begin with?
     
  8. PoV

    PoV
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    Oh, didn't you hear? Episodic gaming is just expansion packs re-branded for story based games. Shhh... don't tell the general public.

    Seriously, playing Half Life 2: Episode 1 without playing playing Half Life 2 is plain silly. Episodic TV as a standalone doesn't even work as well as people think. Jumping in to "24" in the middle of a season is such a waste.
     
  9. electronicStar

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    The bigwigs have been considering episodic contnt for videogames as a way to have customers come back and maybe they thought it would mean less devellopment costs.
    The problem is that in the domain of videogames, each episode would require as much time and efforts to devellop as a full game (unlike in "linear" products like TV for example where a 30 minutes episode requires much less to shoot than a 90 minutes movie)
     
  10. soniCron

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    I dunno. I can pick up The Simpsons any time, same with any light-content program. To be honest, that really shouldn't be a problem in downloadable games either because they're not broadcast. On-demand content is ripe for episodic continuity. Do you disagree?
     
  11. Coyote

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    I think the key is to make it truly episodic - not serial - and priced accordingly. So far, nobody's done it right that I have seen. Instead, all I've seen people do is break a game into pieces, and sell off the pieces for more than the price of the whole game.
     
  12. NothingLikeit

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    POV: Your frustration with what has been released under the term episodic game. Is understandable. I think that customer education is going to be a big part of it. But alot of people hit the nail on the head. It has to be done right. I'm not sure what "Done right means yet" I do know that it means not creating a full game and syphoning it in bits and pieces.

    You also make a good point about how tough it is to join a season of 24 in mid season. But Sonicron makes a good point about how you can watch an episode of The Simspons at any point. I think that the answer is to create modular episode arcs, similar to some non sequential shows such as house. Although we "could ditch the whole concept of television episodes" and call them micro games or something.

    Cost is the main issue, and we have found the benefit episodic games (micro games, mini games) could have for developers. Now we have to find the benefit for the gamer.
     
  13. Bad Sector

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    I haven't played it, but i heard that the new Sam & Max episodes are self-contained small games instead of a big one cutted in many parts. I suppose that this is the "right" way to do episodic gaming.
     
  14. Rainer Deyke

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    Let's say you cut up a $60/60 hour game into six $10/10 hour episodes. Who really benefits from this scenario?
    • The developer can, in theory, release the first episode earlier. In practice, the first episode is going to require the bulk of the work.
    • Packaging, distributing, and installing all of those individual episodes is going to be a lot of work, for the developer, for the player, and for any middle man.
    • A lot of people who don't have the money or the time to play the whole game are just going to buy a couple of episodes. Possibly just one episode in the many of cases. These are customers who otherwise would either have either bought the whole game or not have bought the game at all. However, the overall amount of money and time that these people are willing to spend on games is probably constant.
    • In summary, more people will buy the first episode, fewer people will buy the whole game, and the total amount of money that people spend remains more or less constant.

    There are only two ways in which this model may become more profitable than the old model, both of them fairly unlikely:
    • The format itself may attract more buyers. These buyers would be primarily those who don't have the time or money for the full game. If this episode thing takes off, it is possible that these people will spend their $60 on six different first episodes from different series and stop buying $60 games altogether.
    • If the game is compelling enough, then people who only wanted the first episode may end up buying all episodes. In order for this to work, the game would have to be significantly better than the buyer initially expected it to be. This can only happen with a small minority of games before the buyers' expectations rise.
     
  15. Anthony Flack

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    The other main point is that you could distribute, say, 10 20Mb episodes of a content-heavy story-driven game, rather than one off-putting 200Mb download.
     
  16. soniCron

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    To be honest, I think the only financial model that could (perpetually) support episodic gaming would be advertising.

    Why?

    The games need to create a critical mass of attention by achieving more frequent releases. The only way to do this is to cut down the (usually 6+ hours) gameplay to self-sustaining bite-sized chunks. Staggering the releases over a period of weeks, rather than months or years, would develop an exponentially greater momentum and potentially snowball into something sustainable. Unfortunately, folks aren't keen on shelling out a few bucks to watch their favorite show every week, as I suspect they'll likely respond similarly with episodic gaming released on such a frequent occasion. Under such circumstances, the only reasonable financial model would be advertising.

    That said, I think it all lies in the laps of the developers. Episodic gaming won't catch on until developers accept a few things:
    • Reinventing the wheel every time around is inefficient and cannot sustain episodic gaming. Reuse, reuse, reuse.
    • Limit the gameplay to some very simple and basic components and reuse them in a dynamic manner to create emergent gameplay.
    • If there's an easier way, do it. Digital puppeteering and character reuse are highly efficient.
    • Cut out the dead-time. There should be no more than a minute or two of "nothing." If there isn't an interesting plot-advancing moment for over 5 minutes, you've lost my attention.
    • If you want to see true mainstream success, ditch the sci-fi and fantasy. Not only is it cheaper to use real-world items, events, and storytelling, it's also a lot more appealing to the general public.

    It all comes down to consolidation and efficiency, two things game developers are notoriously poor at.
     
  17. Agent 4125

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    I think instead of Episodic Content, the next cool thing should be Original Content.
     
  18. PoV

    PoV
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    Yeah. Middleware can help, when it becomes more available. But if you're doing something not based on Unreal 3, Valve's Source, or one of those Adventure game makers, then you're making your own story game Middleware. You could base it off a flexible engine like Torque or Ogre, but there's still much work ahead to turn it in to a storytelling platform. And you'll need it, if you expect to pump out episodes at any respectable rate.

    Your first game is your pilot episode, and you need to figure out the structure to establish it right. It's no different then NOT producing an episodic game at this point. It just means cheaper sequels.

    Valve's model of episodic games right now given the schedule, is more like Direct to DVD movies than an episodic TV series. ;)

    And a concept of "seasons" is almost silly, unless you have a reasonable release schedule, or some significant game engine or technology change.

    Ah, but games tend not to be developed like comedies or kid shows. Not to mention, while these shows do have episodes, the episode numbers don't play a big part in them, unlike a serial TV series. They're used for cataloging, but that's it.

    Introduce serialization in a story, and you lose something by not seeing/reading/playing them all.

    Even the Telltale stuff I've played (Bone #2) leaves the player a bit unfamiliar, since there is a serial back story. However, I suppose the solution to that would be to include some sort of "Previously, on this game" or an optional introduction (so not to spoil the 1st game's plot) for new players.

    I absolutely agree. But an MMO world that grows monthly or bi-monthly strikes me as a smoother "TV like" experience, then anything we've seen so far. But we're all busy exploiting players in MMO land with "access" subscription fees. Not that I have any interest in going MMO, I just think the experience of an updating subscription model is smoother. Perhaps a "Steam like" or "podcast catching" clients that pull down your new episodes as they become available. Though, the spyware stigmata, or more fat clients slowing down a PC's startup certainly makes it a tougher sell.

    It's easy to forget, as a society, we're not used to paying for individual episodes of a TV series. Thanks to iTunes and some on demand services, that's changing, but the general public is more used to the TV subscription model. Really, episodic gaming is in the same boat looking for acceptance as new media looking to capitalize via distribution over the internet.

    Episodic as a means to require less total content, I agree. Giving someone a linear 1-2 hour story game for $20 is harder to justify than 4-8 hour story... which is funny, given DVD movies clock in at about 2 hours, and many games feature 1 hour free trials. ;)

    If that's the case, then all you're doing is making smaller games. And in that case, a "Episode 1" subtext is merely a cataloging of your games, since it's irrelevant to any game playing structure. It may as well be omitted, and replaced with a story title. Or slap a # on the game, ala Final Fantasy 35, for classic continuity.

    There's marketing advantages to not releasing the 3 parts of your game all at once. And not to mention, marketing advantages for being able to push and old product and a new product in each marketing campaign. But if your games plots are unrelated, and not in any way part of a serial story, emphasis on it being an episode is almost deceptive, given how used we are to sequeling in games as our distinct breakups. As I see it, you're better off giving it a subtitle, "Joe's Adventure: Wrath of Stapplor", and not "Joe's Adventure: Episode 2" or "Joe's Adventure: Part 2", unless your game IS serial.

    Episodes and other partitioning in game titles are an unfamiliar continuity. As I see it, they imply serialization.

    Yup.
     
  19. NothingLikeit

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    warning: May contain soap box like rant

    wow I really appreciate the comments, questions, and statements that have been laid out thus far. This particular thread has already outlived it's predecesor by 3 pages. :D .

    But seriously I love the thoughts said by Sonicron and POV among others. What you guys said is sort of in line with what I'm already thinking and planning to implement. I've kind of had an idea for a smaller game that wasn't a puzzler. No offense to the makers of them, but I just want to play something else sometime. But working 2 jobs, and sometimes going to school doesn't leave much time for that. When I do find time to boot up my PS2 or PC. I have to sit through the loading screens, the story movies (some of which still can't be skipped which is a crime in today's busy world) and then I get greeted with a briefing screen, a set up menu in some cases and only then I might be able to shoot something. So at most I've spent an hour to play maybe 20 minutes of an actual game. I've been brought up on marathon gaming sessions so I used to be fine with this, but unfortunately I don't have time to go through a long winded set up just for some action. Granted I don't even have a family of my own yet. I can only imagine how many ex-gamers we've lost because thier real world demands trump their leisure playtime.

    Also I have don't always have the most up to date equipment. My old computer could only play games from 2003 or earlier. And even some of those were slow. It simply couldn't handle Doom 3 or Quake 4. Nor did I have the money to upgrade. Well I put all these ideas away and thought to myself "I'm probably the only former hardcore gamer going through this right now. every gamer is upgrading and this tech race isn't effecting them. But that changed recently when Alex Seropian was speaking during a local IGDA event. He basically voiced the same concerns about having time, energy, and money to play and complete a 40 hour next gen game. His basic solution to the episodic game problem was the same one that we said and that I've been thinking: It has to be compelling.

    Whether it is serial or otherwise.

    So What's My point? Episodic games could be done right. I love the idea of making something bite sized, and priced as such. It's almost like a game snack. The young busy person in question can download the latest adventure, play through multiple levels (and not just one) and finish the game. Like I said in the start, this is preliminary stuff. It's going to take some implementation. I am using both the torque and 3d gamestudio engines. (not at the same time of course) It looks like 3d studio offers a bit more stuff being done upfront. If should happen to fall on my face with this at least we'll know it doesn't work huh?
     
  20. Nutter2000

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    Heh, NothingLikeit, I feel your pain!

    I tried pitching the concept of iComics to people in the industry back in 2000 (and since). This was an episodic story-based idea similar to the way comic books are done, that is the main characters and background story remain the same but the story is different each time.

    The idea was that each complete story is divided into "books", each book consists of 4-6 large levels or episodes which can be played seperately and in any order, although preferably sequentially else you'd probably lose the plot.

    The game style would work best as both an RPG or FPS with story (ie Half-Life).

    Initially you would complete and offer the whole book as a single download, or a seperate downloads. This would let you get plenty of assets in place as well as a fully working engine. After that releasing future books and episodes would require a lot smaller development team, even as little as a writer, programmer, and artist and a tester. Future books could be released on an episodic basis so long as the story is kept fresh, the requirement of a proper writer who can handle both story and the whole differences with writing for games.

    The best way to get this to work would be to use existing IP, comic books being ideal as they're already written that way hence iComics.

    The general response to my pitch was that although it was a good idea but it hadn't been done before so why should they put money into it!

    Plus it was 2000 the year of the Great Purge of Game Developers so funding in general was extremely hard to come by anyway.

    I agree that episodic gaming can work and work well and I still want to do it myself at some point!
    It'll basically take someone to do it successfully before people will take notice, will have to see if Valve can make it work, they're in the best position to do it afterall.
     

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